My death looms on the horizon. That's because like many Cracked editors, I am incredibly old. As I cling to life, I'm not fond of constant reminders that the world and culture have moved on without me. The era of my youth has long passed from memory, and as such, the young masses can now see a poster for an upcoming movie called RoboCop and say, "This looks good, I haven't seen a robot movie since my father took me to see I, Robot when I was 7 years old. And now I am old enough to drive a car."
Crazy Kids' Trivia Fact: The guy on the right used to be one of the world's most famous rappers.
Sure, perhaps another teenager nearby will reply, "This 'RoboCop' story is actually based on one of the lost ancient tales told by the Old Ones." But no flash of recognition will pass over the faces of those around him, all of whom would assume that "Peter Weller" was a porn star's name. Why, just this year I watched them line up in varying amounts for new editions of The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall, Judge Dredd and Red Dawn. I, in my croaking old voice, would say, "Younglings, do you not see that these are reruns? That these stories have been told -- and I mean literally the same stories, with the same characters and plot twists -- recently enough that I still have the VHS copies in my closet?" But they only ignore me, one of them muttering to their little friend, "What is VHS?"
"Wait, is that chocolate? Do we eat them?"
In my more serene moments, I realize that it was always a cycle, that in my day I was simply too young to realize that Star Wars was just a big-budget Flash Gordon, that 1989's Batman was itself just a gritty reboot of a TV show I was barely aware of, that before there was Quentin Tarantino, there was Sam Peckinpah. I accept that the buyers of entertainment are teenagers, and that as soon as a new crop of teenagers screeches into the world, studios can sell them as new all of the same distractions that dazzled the last bunch, and pop culture fades from memory so quickly now that you don't even have to change up the titles.
I suppose I should be grateful, for I have a movie coming out soon, based on a book I wrote (have I never mentioned that before?), and it is comforting to know that if it does not succeed, we can simply do a gritty reboot of it a couple of years from now.
While there were plenty of more successful movies this year, no movie so thoroughly defined a genre, dropped the mic and walked away like The Cabin in the Woods. Horror is inherently dumb. Even the very best horror movies depend on a heaping dose of stupidity from the main characters; the girl will descend into a darkened basement alone, the jock will refuse to believe that there's a killer, even while the corpses are piling up, and rag-tag teams will split up, even in the face of mortal danger, despite the entire course of human evolution screaming that that's a terrible idea. Meanwhile, fans are forced to quietly tolerate it all because these bad decisions fuel horror. But The Cabin in the Woods manages to deconstruct all of those tropes, ripping apart the genre and taking a look at its guts before sewing it all back up into a really great slasher flick.
This is exactly what we want.
The Cabin in the Woods is self-aware from start to finish, following the story of archetypal teens trapped in a cabin while being hunted by torture-loving zombies, but it also follows the story of the pencil pushers working in an office building who orchestrate the whole thing as a sort of sacrifice to an audience that demands it (us). It's simultaneously a critical analysis of the genre and a celebration of it, but to really understand how difficult that is to pull off, it needs the context of another film this year that tried to do the exact same thing and failed miserably: The Expendables 2 (Expendabler?).
Bear with me.
The Expendables 2 is stuffed with winks and nods to the action genre. The movie makes Die Hard references and Terminator jokes, and even acknowledges the Chuck Norris Internet meme. They want the audience to know that, yes, this is a mindless shoot 'em up, but everybody involved is in on the joke. But when The Cabin in the Woods breaks down the fourth wall, there's an entire fictional universe back there that explains all of the horror movie cliches in a way that makes it clear that the creators love and respect the cliches and conventions they're working within. The Expendables 2 seems to be ashamed of the action genre. Whatever love Stallone and the other creators once had for action movies is drowned by their crippling self-awareness as they keep indirectly apologizing for continuing to make movies about hairless buffaloes jump-kicking each other. The Cabin in the Woods allows the movie to keep the narrative structure alive on the table while simultaneously doing an autopsy on it.
But regardless of whether you agree, the fact that The Cabin in the Woods and The Expendables 2 came out in the same year is the sign of a bigger trend in film: The age of the unselfconscious movie is over. There will never be another Rambo or Blood Sport or They Live or Troll franchise because irony has swept through the entertainment industry and killed sincerity. Audiences are so jaded by tropes that it's almost impossible to surprise them anymore. In the case of horror, that's bad news for the whole industry, because it relies on surprises. The only way for a film to stay afloat now is to laugh along with the audience about how clever we all are for figuring out the patterns. At least The Cabin in the Woods is proof that it's still possible to make good movies while simultaneously poking fun at the impossibility of doing so.
For those of you who haven't read the book or watched the movie, The Hunger Games is a dystopian-future sci-fi story about the world's Battle Royalesiest reality show, where 24 children are forced to compete against each other in a televised death match. If you tossed The Lord of the Flies, the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur and Gladiator into your make-out closet and locked the door, The Hunger Games would be the make-out baby that emerged eight months later. (Make-out babies are always premature.)
Was it the best movie of 2012? No, Moonrise Kingdom will probably win the Best Picture Kristi in the Academy Award ceremony that I stage in my basement in February. But THG is 2012's Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, assuming we're now talking in A Christmas Carol metaphors and you've already figured out that the United States is Ebenezer Scrooge. That was a convoluted way of saying "The Hunger Games is the most appropriate movie of the year, because look how much Nicki Minaj resembles a Capitol Citizen."
Or a transvestite Shredder.
It also raises the issue of reality TV, and wonders aloud with the rest of us if "Maybe we should cool it with watching the emotional and physical breakdowns of real people as a form of entertainment? Just a little bit?" It's bad enough that we're all laughing while Honey Boo Boo eats cheese balls that will definitely give her diabetes in 10 years. It's only a matter of time before we're straight up sticking babies and three-legged rabid dogs in an arena for Sweeps Week. Maybe 2012 wasn't the year we hit our reality television disgust threshold, but The Hunger Games certainly called us out on the direction we're heading.
At least The Hunger Games uses teenagers, not human beings.
That's the only real parallel to our world -- unless you live under a bona fide authoritarian regime, in which case you saw lots of your own life in the fictional country Panem. Of course, if you have the freedom to watch The Hunger Games, you do not live under a totalitarian dictatorship. Which is why it's hilarious that conservative Americans used the movie to say "See what will happen if Obama gets his way?" And that liberal Americans used the movie to say "See what will happen if the rich and the poor get farther apart?" And that actual racists used the movie to say "Why is Rue black? This ruins everything! UGGGGGH!" The Hunger Games was the perfect movie for 2012 because it had something for everybody, like a stupidity Rorschach test for the different flavors of stupidity that defined our year.
How do you even live with yourself?
Almost exactly a year ago, I posted a column laying out what would happen in the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. In it, I talked way too much about The Prestige, because people don't get enough Nikola Tesla or David Bowie in their diet these days. Mainly because that's not a diet but also that movie's quite good. A few Turns later and eventually I got to my prophecy: In Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne would die, sacrificing himself so that "The Batman" could live on as a symbol of hope in Gotham. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, John Blake, would pick up the cowl and become the new Batman. Cut to black. Inception sound. Roll credits.
Over wacky guitar music.
I still maintain that I was entirely right, as opposed to just mostly right. I maintain this simply because I prefer my movie more. Maybe it wasn't the movie I deserved, but it was the movie I expected and therefore the movie it should have been. Aside from the fact that Bruce's happy ending isn't actually all that happy, and the fact that maybe bat-shaped pyrotechnics shouldn't be on your To Do List when a nuclear warhead is about to detonate, and the fact that merely making a logical suggestion to a superior officer earns John Blake the moniker "hothead" in literally every scene he's in with Matthew Modine, and the fact that Talia al Ghul completely despised her father until he died and then she suddenly wanted to devastate an entire city in order to carry on his beloved legacy, and the fact that the nuclear blast had a six-mile radius, yet somehow five seconds on autopilot gave Bruce enough distance to survive it, and the fact that all of Bane's interesting "power to the people" ideology could be chalked up to having an adorable crush on an evil bald girl, and the fact that-
Ahem. Aside from a lot of flaws, I just don't think Bruce's sacrifice meant anything, because it wasn't a sacrifice at all. His epilogue negated that sacrifice. In the end, Bruce made Batman a hero, gave orphans a bunch of money and then went to Europe to fuck Anne Hathaway for the rest of his life. Thanks for taking that bullet, Bruce. You're a real selfless hero.
But ignoring all of that, I still liked the movie alright. I guess. I mean, I have no intention of ever watching it again, but it was pretty good. Unfortunately my snarky, bloggy, Internet-boiled mind made me not like it. I chose The Dark Knight Rises because it's the perfect example of how hard it is to please an Internet full of critics nowadays. We hype things up until nothing short of brilliant will suffice. Now even "pretty good" isn't good enough. The Dark Knight Rises, depending on who you like to argue with and how well they argue, was unarguably the most anticipated film of the year. Everyone in 2012 wanted DKR, and once they got it, they thought it was kind of dumb. I thought that was a pretty good metaphor for ... something, probably? I didn't really think much past this sentence. Calligraphy amaretto garnished camp.
We're making fun of overhyped Halloween costumes, right?